Charity urges change to rules governing council tax arrears

Regulations governing how council tax arrears are collected are inflexible, push people further into debt and need to change, says Citizens Advice Mid North Yorkshire, which has an office in Richmond.

That is because when people miss a single council tax payment, they become liable for the full year’s council tax bill soon after.

The rules also mean councils are pushed to use the court process to collect arrears, and do not set out what good collection looks like.

Last year, Citizens Advice Mid North Yorkshire helped 365 people with council tax issues 51 of them at their Richmondshire office.

Citizens Advice Mid North Yorkshire says the current regulations governing how arrears are collected limit the ability of local councils to collect debts in a fair way.

This can cause debts to spiral making it harder for people to get their finances back on track.

The call comes as new figures published by national Citizens Advice this month show that last year, for every £1 referred to bailiffs for collection; councils received just 27p in return. It also found:

  • Bailiffs cost 53p for every £1 they recovered. Most of these costs are paid by people in financial difficulty. This money could otherwise be used to pay back arrears.
  • Bailiffs failed to collect an average of £2.5 million per council last year.
  • Over the last five years, on average, bailiffs only collected 30% of the arrears they were sent.

Last year, Citizens Advice Mid North Yorkshire helped 365 people with council tax issues 51 of them at their Richmondshire Office.

It is also the most common debt problem brought to the charity, helping 86,000 people nationally each year. In 2018, an estimated 2.2 million households in England were behind on their council tax bill.

Reforming how council tax is collected is just one of the ways Citizens Advice is asking the next government to help people recover from debt.

Some aspects of the process are not within the council’s power to change. That is why Citizens Advice Mid North Yorkshire want to see central government improve the regulations, which govern how council tax is collected on a national level, to enable councils to collect debt fairly and efficiently.

As a minimum, the next government should amend the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 to:

  1. Stop people being asked to pay their entire annual bill if they miss 1 monthly payment. This would make it easier for people to arrange and keep up with repayments.
  2. Give councils the power to initiate deductions from benefits without getting a liability order. These would need to be made at affordable levels so people could continue making repayments.
  3. Set out more steps councils must take before using the court process. This would ensure that all people in debt are given the option of affordable repayments to get back on track.
  4. Remove the threat of imprisonment for council tax arrears in England. This would protect the most vulnerable people and change the culture of debt collection to be more positive.

Chief Officer, Carol Shreeve said: “Council tax debt is one of the biggest debt issues we help people with in Richmondshire and many of the problems relate to the way this is collected.

“Our advisors see first-hand the impact the quick escalation of the debt through a court process and the use of bailiffs has. These practices add extra costs, can worsen people’s mental health and make it harder for them to get their finances back on track.

“The way regulations control councils’ powers to collect council tax debts makes it hard for them to do so in a fair way. That’s why we want central government improve the collection rules in England and put an end to ineffective practices, including charging a full year’s bill after a single payment is missed.”

If you are struggling to pay your council tax bill or have other debts, Citizens Advice Mid North Yorkshire have specialist debt advisors who can can help. Contact us today on 03444 111 444 or visit

1 Comment

  1. Look at what Hammersmith and Fulham are doing, no bailiffs there and better rates of collection. But in truth the problem is Council Tax – not fit for purpose

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